Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale


The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House is the story of a true murder mystery, which formed the basis of inspiration for many of the great detective stories of the late 19th century. It has all the elements of the great whodunnit: intrigue, secret relationships and a small cast of characters.

In 1860, the Kent family, resident at Road Hill House, consisted of Mr. Kent, his second wife Mrs. Kent (formerly a governess to the family), his chilren from his first marriage and a group of younger children from his second marriage. As may be expected, there were typical lines of separation and favouritism between the two groups of children.

One morning the governess awoke to find Saville, one of the younger children, missing from his bed in the nursery. Thinking that he was in bed with his mother, she returned to sleep. It wasn't until the household fully awoke that they realised Saville was no longer in the house. Police were called and neighbours assisted in searching the grounds. Unfortunately, the body of young Saville was found in an outdoor toilet.

The local police were faced with a conundrum, the house had been locked securely from the inside, which meant that the murderer was most likely a member of the household. The pressure from the public and media on the Kent household challenged the strong Victorian feelings about the home (everyman's home is his castle), and the assignment of a police detective to this case furthered added to the interest.

Summerscale has compiled and researched a wealth of knowledge for this book, but I felt a lack of cohesion throughout. Despite the meticulous detail, and the fascinating insights into the mentality of the era, the story never really pulls together. Instead it remains cut and dried. It offers a fascinating view of the Victorian era, as well as the evolution of the crime novel and the modern police detective. Recommended for fans of the era.

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